Hiking Boots vs Trail Runners? Here’s The Deal


Ever want to buy some new hiking boots….or maybe trail runners? and you’re not sure which is better and which to get? Let’s tackle that now. Here are the differences and some guidance to help you make a good decision with Hiking Boots vs Trail Runners.

So let’s start by talking about some different types of hiking shoes and the pros and cons of each. First up, you have your very traditional hiking boot. It typically has a higher top so that your ankle is protected and supported. Additionally, with the ankle support, a hiking boot often has a higher sole and thicker overall build quality. Then you have Trail Runners, these are softer, lighter and have less material.

TLDR: Get Hiking Boots for Winter and Early Spring and if needed, use Trail Runners for hotter summer months where water and temperatures won’t have a safety impact. Now, let’s do details.

Pro’s And Con’s Of Hiking Boots

An example of this would be something like a Danner Mountain 600 boot that is very popular (I own and love this boot). Hiking boots are typically waterproof and super, super durable, really supportive and just kind of big and just hold the foot.

PROs: Some of the pros to a hiking boot are they are stable. They are durable. They offer foot and ankle protection. They’re warmer on cold hikes. When you’re hiking through some of that little slushy, snow that you might find in the springtime, they’re usually waterproof and they offer really good attraction.

CONS: Cons of hiking boots are that they are heavy and bulky, and they typically take some time to be broken in. If they do happen to get wet on the inside, when you cross a stream or something similar, and you get water inside, that is going to take a really, really long time to dry out. Wet boots could potentially leave your feet very wet and cold and also lead to some safety issues like hypothermia.

pssst: Check out our guide to Hiking Safety Items You NEED

Pro’s And Con’s Of Trail Runners

PRO: Pros to a trail runner shoe for hiking is that they don’t typically require a big break-in period. They are so much lighter and more breathable, and they are typically quicker to dry if they get wet inside. They work great in warmer climates and give you the comfort and freedom you would want on a hot day’s hike.

CON: The cons to a trail runner are that they are less supported and they typically do not last as long as a more durable hiking boot. While they may be comfy, your just not going to get a ton of usage out of them if you’re on the trail a lot.

Sizing of Trail Runners or Hiking Boots

Definitely try on your hiking boots (or trail runners) before your buy anything. Your feet swell throughout the day, and you want to make sure that the boot fits when your foot is a little bit swollen because as you hike, it’s going to swell. Trying your boot on at the end of the day to get a better feel for that foot swell is definitely a good little tip. And typically I size up maybe like a half a size with my hiking boots, just to allow for that room for swelling.

In addition to feet swell, all manufacturers run a bit different in size. What may work for you in a size 9 with Company A, may not fir the same in a size 9 with company B.

Type Of Activity

So, let’s say that you have some trail runners and you have hiking boots, like which one do you choose for which hike? Since I do lots of hiking in all kinds of terrain and weather conditions, I do have a few different hiking shoe options. This is kind of what I think through when I’m deciding what to wear:

  1. What is the terrain?
  2. Will you be going to be hiking on the desert slick rock?
  3. Will You be hiking through water?
  4. What is the weather?
  5. What is the time of year?
  6. Where is my geographic location?

Be Honest With yourself About Your Plans

Hiking boots vs Trail Runners? Ask your self these questions as well:

Is it early spring hiking where there’s probably a lot of slushy, snow, and mud. These are some examples, terrains that would definitely factor into the type of shoe that I’m wearing. The next thing that I consider is what is the weather? Am I going to be in the desert where it’s going to be super hot, or am I going to be hiking high up in the mountains where it’s potentially a lot colder? What is the weather for the area that I’m hiking?

And lastly, how far am I planning to hike? Am I going on a long through-hike? That’s going to take me months. Am I just going for a day hike? Am I going for a short backpacking trip? How many days am I going to be hiking in a row? And how many miles am I planning to cover?

Those are the three questions that I’m asking myself when I’m getting ready for my hike and deciding what shoes to wear.

What Do I Wear?

Personally, I own and wear two main pairs: Danner Mountain 600Opens in a new tab. Hiking Boots and Vasque Juxt. The Danners are perfect for Early spring and winter conditions. Not too warm and just enough insulation for activity without my feet freezing.

The Vasque Juxt Opens in a new tab.is my go-to for summer. They are lightweight, have a great fit, and look good. Both of these shoes are like little Jeeps on my feet and there really isn’t any slippage, what can I say, I love them both!

You can get them both at REI by clicking here.Opens in a new tab.

Bottom Line

I recommend going with a sturdy boot in the cooler months and a lightweight trail runner in the warmer months. I could go on and on about my personal preferences, but thats not going to help you. When it comes to this, it becomes a personal preference. Make sure you go with a quality brand, going cheap will leave you with sore (and wet) feet. I hope this is helpful. And just kind of figuring out maybe what to wear when or just the different types of boots that might work for you. If you have any additional questions, just make sure to comment below.

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